Nurses have called for specialist Ebola training after health bosses confirmed city hospitals would conduct testing if the virus arrives in Scotland.
NHS Lothian confirmed the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary would act as a testing hub for deadly Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers, including Ebola, if a case is suspected anywhere in the country.
Funding to set up the testing centre at the hospital’s Specialist Virology Centre was announced yesterday by Health Secretary Alex Neil, who also revealed that oil and gas workers returning to Scotland from affected countries would receive the same screening as health workers treating those sick with Ebola in West Africa.
Testing at the ERI will dramatically speed up diagnosis, with results returned within six hours, compared with the current 32-hour wait for samples sent to England for analysis.
Officials say the chance of the virus spreading to the UK is low, but plans for an isolation unit at the ERI have been drawn up, where any Scottish case of Ebola would first be diagnosed and treated.
After a case was confirmed, the patient would then be transported to the Western General Hospital, which houses NHS Lothian’s infectious diseases unit.
Ebola has spread out of control through West Africa, killing over 5000 and infecting more than 12,000 people. The countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been hardest hit, but cases of the virus have cropped up in Spain and the United States.
Royal College of Nursing professional officer Lynn McDowall said nursing staff on the front line of dealing with any Ebola infection in Scotland should be “properly trained and protected”.
She said: “The RCN supports the current assessment that the current risk of Ebola in Scotland and the rest of the UK is low. We must, however, be prepared for any suspected cases.
“With the announcement today that NHS Lothian is to establish a national testing service, the Government and NHS Lothian must now ensure that the right policies and procedures are in place.”
Mr Neil said: “The risk of an Ebola case appearing in Scotland remains low. However, that does not mean we are complacent. From December 1 we will have the facility in Scotland to test for Ebola. This will mean that should a possible case arrive we will be able to rapidly confirm whether we are dealing with a genuine case.”
The Health Secretary added that the Scottish Government was donating £500,000 to the World Health Organisation and £300,000 worth of medical equipment to help tackle the disease in West Africa.
Dona Milne, deputy director of public health at NHS Lothian, said: “We’re delighted to be able to set up the first VHF Testing Service of its kind north of the border.
“These viruses can be difficult to identify and can spread in care or hospital settings if they go unnoticed. Therefore, prompt laboratory testing is key to managing any VHF case.”